The cleaning gene and other things I inherited from my late mum

As some of you may know, I’ve just spent a lovely six days away on the far north coast and mostly around the Tweed River region. It’s an area I absolutely love, and given my ‘druthers’ would happily be a resident there.

View from the Tweed River Gallery, Murwillumbah

The main reason for the visit was to celebrate my sister’s 50th birthday, (which of course means I’m almost at the midway point of 50 and 60, but this is not about me!), but the visit also coincided with July 15, the 12th anniversary of our mum Edna’s death from cancer.

She was an incredible woman who managed to cram at least 90 years into the 62 years and nine months she lived.  And ‘live’ is the only verb you can use when it came to our mum. I sometimes imagine her looking from wherever she is and tut-tutting at my procrastination. Her mantra, long before the multinational adopted it was ‘just do it’.

When she became ill in 1995 we were, as most families are, thrown for a six. Here was our too young mum, just turned 57 with breast cancer and less than three years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The doctors gave her six months to live if she was lucky.

Dad and um circa 1957

Dad and Mum
circa 1957

She told them she was ‘too busy to die’ and managed to stay with us for another three years and five months. It was her second episode that sent me back to creative writing in an effort to work through what I was feeling. The first and last stories in my collection, The Basket and the Briefcase, included elements of autobiography. The final story, The Cleaning Gene, was written two years after my mother died. I remember stopping at one point and asking whether I had the right to share this part of my and my family’s life with others. I got up to make a cup of tea and as I did, heard her very clearly tell me to ‘just do it’.

So here is The Cleaning Gene – which also pays homage to my Nanna  Whit who, in one of those turns life takes, died just days before mum could tell her she was ill. I think the news would have been too much for my nanna to bear. Nanna was a cleaner at Bankstown Girls’ High. Every time I alight the train at Bankstown ready to catch the bus to the UWS campus to attend my MA classes I think of her.   

The Cleaning Gene – Robyne Young © 2003

You’ll find the complete The Basket and the Briefcase as a PDF here.



About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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